I have just received the good news that Abdel Aziz Mohamed Albaz, also known as Ben Baz, has been released from prison in Kuwait where he has been held for a year on charges of blasphemy. He would like to thank everybody who campaigned on his behalf.
For further news see his Facebook page.
Ben Baz is a 28 year old Egyptian atheist, with a degree in commerce, who was working in Kuwait, and blogging about secularism and religion, when he was arrested over a year ago on charges of blasphemy. His friends highlighted his arrest, and said they suspected that a personal disagreement with his work sponsor, about work matters, may have been translated into a blasphemy accusation. This type of abuse of an already unjust law is common in Islamic countries.
This is a link to his blog, in Arabic, where he writes about the relationship of religion, the State and secularism. My translations are courtesy of google translate, so corrections from Arabic speakers are welcome.
In a post on the place and the role of religion in a secular society, he argues that the desire to remove religion from public life means removing government support for religion, not removing religion from view. There is nothing in secular philosophy that requires the removal of religion: some secularists hope religion eventually disappears, other secularists are happy for religion to play a role in society, and some secularists even support religious charities in their alleviation of of poverty and suffering. Religions, instead of attacking secularism, should be focusing on why people should choose to voluntarily support their religions.
In a post on freedom and self-determination, democracy and independence from religion, he argues that being free in the framework of liberal democracy requires, at the very least, that people are able to form their opinions and to achieve goals related to the direction of their lives with minimal interference from the state. If people are prevented from developing their own ideas about the formation of a good and moral life, they become tools in the hands of the state. This applies particularly when the State encourages the ideology of a particular religion as a determinant of goodness and morality.
In a post about religious people who demand that others follow religious rules that conflict with civil law, he tells of a pharmacist who refused to give an insulin injection to a woman because it was forbidden by Islam, despite her being over seventy years of age and in a remote region far from doctors or hospitals. Also, an Egyptian newspaper had reported on a hospital where staff in the intensive care unit left vulnerable patients unattended for two hours while they performed prayers in the Mosque. The welfare of humans should not be sacrificed because of beliefs about God.
In a post on how to increase the number of atheists in future generations, he argues that early exposure to different and neutral opinions will contribute to the early detection of myths. Raising children to become thinkers and critics instead of memorizing by heart is the key, as is exposure to science and higher education. Positive recent developments include the work of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, and the role of the Internet in validating information. Also, political change in social justice, health and safety undermines the power of religion.
We will soon have further details about his release and his experience in prison.